published Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

CSLA parents rev up rally; Hamilton County commissioner proposes compromise

  • photo
    Christy Lewis, Elizabeth Kimball, Sara Apgar and Maria Eargle, from left, hold signs in support of Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts during a protest Monday in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse. Parents plan to protest at the courthouse until Wednesday in an effort to get funding for a new CSLA location.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

With the Hamilton County Commission vote to approve Mayor Jim Coppinger's school building proposal looming Wednesday and a continuing stakeout of the County Courthouse by supporters of a local magnet school, at least one commissioner proposed a solution Monday that brought mixed reaction.

The county cannot afford to pay for all six of the school projects that schools Superintendent Rick Smith said need to be done. Among the six was a new K-12 Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, which did not make Coppinger's final cut.

Joe Graham, District 6 county commissioner, said it doesn't have to be that way. The county can provide relief for CSLA without jeopardizing much-needed funding for schools like a new Ganns Middle Valley Elementary and Sale Creek Middle-High that Coppinger included in his proposal, he said.

Graham's idea is to move CSLA into the relatively young facility that once housed David Brainerd Christian School. The structure on Igou Gap Road now is home to some students of the overcrowded East Brainerd Elementary School.

Hamilton County acquired the 12-year-old building in 2011 and is planning to demolish it as part of the effort to build a new East Brainerd Elementary School on the site.

Instead, the plan could be changed to move the new East Brainerd Elementary School to the old CSLA site once the dilapidated CSLA building is demolished, Graham said.

"We'd be getting two buildings for the price of one," said Graham, who added he has been fielding calls and emails from CSLA parents, many of whom remained outside the county courthouse for a second day Monday to make a public stand for their school.

To a pair of Board of Education members, Graham's idea seemed well intended but unrealistic.

"I'm not an architect or an engineer, but it doesn't seem like it would be a practical solution," said Donna Horn, a school board member representing East Brainerd. Horn wrote a letter to commissioners last week asking they fund a new CSLA building. "It's just a Band-Aid."

School board Chairman Mike Evatt said the only way Graham's proposal would have worked is if it were introduced when the county initially acquired the David Brainerd Christian School building.

With contracts already approved for the new East Brainerd Elementary School and specific plans well in the works, Graham's idea won't work, Evatt said.

"Being in facilities all my life, that makes no sense at all," he said.

For Christy Lewis, a CSLA mother deep into another day of holding signs outside the county courthouse, Graham's proposal would be welcomed if additions to the 17-classroom facility were included to accommodate more CSLA students.

"Our children are in a dangerous school," she said as a crowd of CSLA supporters around her waved at rush-hour traffic and snacked on Little Caesars pizza Monday. "If it gets them out of a dangerous school, it gets us the next step toward what we want."

Knowing that commissioners are thinking about CSLA is good, she said. CSLA advocates want nothing to be taken from other schools in need that are set to receive funding.

"That's something very important," Lewis said. "We're not trying to supersede their schools. We know they need new schools. We're just saying we do, too. We're not more deserving or anything. We're just saying our children are in a dangerous building and enough is enough."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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